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Virtual connections: Embracing the norm of online friends

THE WASHINGTON POST – Young adults say friend-making apps – which match potential companions or curate community events – helped them find their people. But first, some had to wrestle with a common anxiety: Is it weird to be actively looking for friends?

“I hear that all the time,” said resident friendship expert Danielle Bayard Jackson at social app Bumble, which is known for its dating product but also offers a friend-making mode. “People are a little hesitant at first because they don’t know what it says about them that they have to resort to something like this.”

These days she’s hearing it less, though. People of all ages are more comfortable leveraging technology to make friends, Bayard Jackson said. And Gen Z – those born between 1997 and 2012 – is setting the tone, often leading conversations about loneliness and modern friend-making amid what the US Surgeon General is calling a public health crisis of social isolation.

With fewer options for meeting people in person, today’s adults are turning to the Internet to spark new connections.

Friend-seekers told The Washington Post that looking for companions on Meetup, Reddit, Discord or Bumble led to genuine friendships that often made the jump from online to “real life”. Sometimes they felt uncomfortable or unsure, but it was worth it to widen their circles or make new connections.

PHOTO: FREEPIK

The verdict is in: Hunting for friends isn’t weird. So whether you’re finding your first friend or expanding your crew, here are some expert tips to make the most of your online search.

FIND THE RIGHT APP

If you’re a “blend-into-the-group” kind of person, check out the app Meetup, where organisers post get-togethers like book clubs and hikes. You can search by your interests and join a few groups to get alerted of upcoming events. (Many of the meetups are virtual or have a virtual offering).

Check out your local subreddits and Discord servers, too. Many post get-togethers or keep track of community events. If you’re lost, try Googling “(your city) subreddit.”

If you’d rather connect one on one, try Bumble for Friends. It works almost exactly like the app’s dating side, with profiles you swipe right or left on. Other friend-matching apps include Wink and Yubo. Consider joining apps or sites that focus on specific communities.

GET TO THE SPECIFICS

The bio “pizza and travel” cannot possibly contain the multitude that is you. It’s tempting to keep things general when you describe yourself online, but that impulse could hold you back, Bayard Jackson said. Giving more info up front about who you are and what you’re looking for makes it easier to spark connections. Use bios or introductory posts to tell people what you’re into and why you’re on the app.

Maybe you want a shopping buddy buddy or an EDM-concert partner or a phone-call friend. It can be scary to label ourselves and our intentions, but go ahead and rip off that Band-Aid, Bayard Jackson said. It’ll make things easier.

Stick to positives (“looking for a workout buddy”) rather than negatives (“no gym rats, please”). You catch more flies with honey, et cetera.

Specificity also helps if you’re trying to connect with people who share your interests, vce president of community at Reddit Laura Nestler said. Why join a “board games” or “K-pop” forum when you can jump straight to “Catan” or “Seventeen”? – Tatum Hunter

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